Court of Appeal Upholds John Kenney's Murder Conviction
April 17, 2012
The neighbor dispute that simmered for years before ending in deadly gunfire left one survivor who will spend the rest of his life in prison.
John Kenney, known to friends as "Jack," was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He was convicted for the slaying of Mel and Elizabeth Grimes, who were each shot twice. They were Kenney's next-door neighbors in Carmel Valley.
The Sixth District Court of Appeal Tuesday issued a decision upholding Monterey County Superior Court Judge Stephen Sillman's sentence, with only a minor modification to the restitution Kenney was fined, trimming it from $30,000 to $10,000.
Kenney and his attorney, Oakland-based Kyle Gee, argued in his appeal that Kenney fired in self defense. Elizabeth Grimes had approached his house while her husband, Mel, had taken a sledgehammer to a large boulder Kenney had delivered to a disputed patch of land between their homes earlier that day.
He also argued the court failed to adequately explain self-defense laws to the jury, and that the court incorrectly admitted a DVD called First and Finishas evidence.
The appellate court found no merit to the self-defense argument and upheld the jury's interpretation. "…A reasonable jury could have inferred from the evidence that defendant provoked a fight with the Grimeses with the intent to create an excuse to use force," the decision states. "[Kenney] expected the Grimeses to react with physical force against him due to his placing the boulder on the disputed property; and [he] had a gun in his belt when he approached the Grimeses for the first time after placing the boulder."
Gee argued First and Finish, an instructive video on action versus reaction, prejudiced the jury against Kenney. "The effect of the evidence—and indeed its intended effect—was to convince the jury that [Kenney] was a dangerous old gunslinger obsessed with firearms and violent defense," Gee said, according to court documents. "The prejudicial effect was acute."
The Court of Appeal upheld the admission of the DVD as evidence, along with the conviction and sentencing.
The jury never even considered the property dispute. Before the trial began, the attorneys agreed not to bring it up, instead offering up jurors this background: "The Grimes believed they had an easement or right to access their carport across the defendant’s property. In this case, who was actually right about this property dispute is not necessary for the jury to decide, and therefore, that issue is not for you, the jurors, to determine.”